Sharing Stories: I felt like I was doing it all in secret

As part of our Citizens Assembly submission we gathered the real stories of real women who had been affected by the 8th Amendment. Now, as we approach the referendum to remove the 8th from our constitution and allow compassionate care in Ireland, we are reproducing some of the stories, with permission. We want to thank those who submitted with us. Please share widely.

I got pregnant whilst being abroad for a while with a long term partner. I lost track of dates while travelling and did not use proper contraceptive precautions. I discovered my pregnancy when I returned home amidst breaking up with this partner. I was about to return to study as a mature student with no income prospects for a full year.

I felt trapped because I decided that the best option was an abortion but didn’t know how to get one.  I felt very, very sad about my relationship ending and being in the position of having an abortion.Whilst I regret the circumstances, I do not regret my decision. I feel disappointed that my government does not recognise my capacity as a mature adult woman to make responsible decisions that have an impact on both my partner’s life and mine, our families and our society.

After my abortion and some time apart, we got back together to try again but despite an enduring love and respect for him, our relationship did not work out. An unplanned child at that time would have put huge financial and psychological pressure on us that would not have afforded us the space and time to attempt to work things out. Becoming a mother then rather than later would have undermined my future employment prospects and chance of independence by jeopardising my studies.  So I chose not to create a child at that time. I fail to believe that this is not a responsible approach to parenting yet I find my decision is derided by people that profess to love and care for the welfare of children and families.

What would it meant for you not to have to travel?
If I had not travelled, the situation would not have felt like it was such a crisis and I don’t think I would have felt so stressed out about everything I had to organise including time off work . At the time, I felt like I was doing it all in secret because I didn’t want to tell my GP which is just not a good way to deal with one’s health issues. I also felt bad as an Irish citizen that I was burdening a British service with an issue that could be so easily dealt with in my own country – a country which in so many other ways excels world standards in medical care, hospitality and everyday human kindness.

When I tried to get information about abortion pills to take at home, I was misinformed about the risks involved. I was also threatened by the legal repercussions even though this is standard practice in many countries. If medics were better trained in Ireland, I could have avoided travelling all together.

What would you say to the citizen’s assembly if you could speak to them?
I really don’t believe it is your place to decide the circumstances by which a person should have an abortion because, based on my experience, it is impossible to know all of the factors at play. I am disappointed that the Irish government is asking you to mediate on an issue that successive governments have neglected to deal with responsibly instead of putting it to a people’s vote.

I feel that some of the reasons behind this neglect are related to outdated ideas about the role women should play in Irish society that we urgently need to move beyond. Other reasons are related to faith-based ethics imposed by tradition or influential religious groups that, although deserving of respect, are not simply shared by all citizens and therefore should not inform medical policy for the general populace.

I do feel you are in key position to recommend that choosing abortion be a decision made only by the abortion seeker no matter what her circumstance, in consultation with a doctor, partner or whomever else she may wish. I ask that you recommend services be made available immediately to facilitate safe, legal, destigmatised access to abortion and good sex education for all ages. I recognise that there is a fear if abortion may become more available, there will be more abortions. However, there is ample evidence to the contrary as long as good sex education (including contraception and abortion care) is also made available. I think this education has been lacking up until now and that does not make logical sense if we are to progress as a healthy, enlightened equal society.

How would your experience have been different if you were able to access safe and legal abortion services at home?

I could have had an abortion earlier and saved a considerable expense and level of anxiety.

I met many women from Ireland who were in the clinic alone. I feel lucky that I was not alone for many emotional reasons and also because my companion on the day (my mother) caught me as I nearly fainted on the street after I left the abortion clinic and hailed a cab to my hotel. If I had been alone, I could have been left on the street and struggled to orientate myself. Even though the clinic I attended took the usual precautions with a person with low blood pressure like myself, no-one could have guessed that the heat of the sun on the way home and my physical and emotional state would have caused that to happen. Had I been in Ireland, I could have been brought straight home safely and quickly.

The fact that I had to stay in hotel in an unfamiliar city rather than in the comfort and care of my own home seems unreasonable. I cannot begin to imagine how much more difficult that must make the experience for someone in worse circumstances than myself who may have suffered rape or other traumas. Having not been through such a traumatic experience myself, I still feel that my choice to have an abortion is no less a valid one that deserves the best medical attention we can provide in our country to avoid unnecessary risks to health and wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our partners and our future families.

What impact would being forced to remain pregnant against your will have had on your emotional and physical health?
If services were provided in Ireland, I would have had more information available to me earlier and could have aborted as soon as I found out that I was pregnant (at 6 weeks) than the stage I did by the time I found out all the information I needed and made arrangements for travel (at 11 weeks). I felt very sad about carrying (and hiding) an unwanted pregnancy for that length of time. I imagine that, like myself, every abortion seeker is human and wants to avoid causing pain to ourselves or the foetus we carry so earlier access to intervention is imperative.

I felt abandoned by the health services in my own country to which I make a contribution in my taxes and insurance contributions. I felt powerless in doing anything about it. I felt uncared about by my political representatives. I feel that the fact our law allows women to travel to services not provided on the island is very hypocritical and does not make any sense.  Judging by the vast numbers of women who travel for abortions or take pills at home, it is obvious that abortion is a reality of reproductive healthcare.

I was 32, the same age as Savita Halappanavar when I sought an abortion. There was every possibility that, had I chosen to go ahead with my pregnancy, I could have found myself in her position and been left to die instead of having a request for an abortion carried out. At that time it seemed to me that the Irish government cared more about me not having an abortion than staying alive. There was little or no care about the impact that might have on my family and a potential future family. That is not a way that any citizen should feel. Nor indeed any resident in Ireland because it affects non-citizens also who I am not sure are represented in this assembly. It is absolute negligence. It is placing us at an unreasonable level of risk that is unjust.

What impact did being forced to travel have on you, your family and your finances?
I spent half of my savings for my college fees on having an abortion. This put me in very difficult circumstances for the year of study meaning I had to undergo the added stresses of managing a loanwhilst being unable to earn an income.

It created anxiety for my family members that knew and feared for my safety travelling home so soon after the termination.

I felt stigmatised at the time and still do somewhat about aborting even though I believe that actually it was the most responsible thing I could do given my situation. I sometimes hear of circumstances like mine being described negatively as ‘social’ abortions. Yet, don’t we as a society place most value on any person or couple’s realistic assessment of our financial, emotional and psychological conditions as the very social factors that should influence when and how we make bring children into the world.

If I had access to abortion at home, this incident in my life would not feel like something I should be secretive about to protect myself from judgement. I am still cautious about who I tell and why and how – which is why I have chosen to remain anonymous in sharing this story.

illustration by Mollie Little